How do we bring Jewish ideas and ethics off our bookshelves and make them come alive to inspire our lives today? Sometimes inspiration comes from left field when you least expect it. Inspiration takes you out of your normal status quo and beckons you to try something new. And, if you combine your inspiration with a bit of whimsy, you get something really special.
As you may have gathered from the repeating food references in my writing, I love to cook, and I love to bring my friends and community together under the umbrella of Jewish life and values. I have been traveling a lot and so with an open Friday night at home, we decided to invite over a couple, of which the wife is a ceramicist. She commented to me that she is finishing up a piece based on the Sephardic Jewish philosopher Maimonides, that she created for a mutual friend who really is taken by him. As it happens, a third friend and I have both been reading the same biography of Maimonides. What are the odds that besides me, three of my friends would be aware of and interested in Maimonides at the same time? Very, very, very small.
Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as the Rambam) was born in Spain around 1135. Maimonides was a renaissance man, extremely learned and well-read, he was “one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages (Wikipedia).” He wrote a magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, which distilled the oral tradition into the essence of the ideas presented and provided a comprehensive “how to” manual for Jewish life. The Mishneh Torah continues to be studied today, almost 1000 years later.
With this weird convergence of interest in this great scholar, our small Shabbat dinner morphed into an ode to him with the meal inspired by the physical journey of his life. Forced to flee from Spain, Maimonides made his way to Fez, Morocco; Jerusalem; and to Egypt, first to Alexandria, and finally to Fustat which is now modern-day Cairo. In his honor, we are having appetizers from Spain, a starter course from Morocco, the main dish from Jerusalem, and dessert from Egypt. And while I am sure the food will be delicious, I am most excited about the conversation that will flow. In addition to talking about our children and how the Warriors are doing, Maimonides will come alive at our Shabbat table. I imagine that it would please him to know that he is the honored guest after 1000 years.
So next time you are inspired to have friends over, throw in some whimsy and invite a Jewish scholar who has been dead for almost a 1000 years. The past will come alive and your present will be richer for it.